Saturday, 14 March 2009

On How We Can Know Things For Sure

I have long suspected that everyone else has a little extra bit of stuff in their brain which I don't have, and which allows them to put things immediately into context. I am hopeless at this; I also have a ridiculously good memory for faces and names, many of which occupy space in my head for a much greater number of years than would be expected, meaning that, amongst other things, I cannot quickly tell the difference between someone I spoke to at a bus stop several years ago, and (for instance) a work colleague. More than once, I have bounded up to someone in Tesco and cheerfully greeted them with "Hi! How's it going? Umm... you remember me? WhyNotSmile... I met you... er... 6 years ago... You... sold me a Milky Way... in... a shop... Anyway, nice to see you again!" and then had to leave hurriedly.

I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, except that it is linked to the fact that I generally remember random 'facts' for a ludicrous period of time and frequently out of context. Unfortunately, if you tell me "You know what, I heard this guy saying that herons have no knees, I mean, how dumb is that?!", I will only remember the bit about herons having no knees, and will (after a bedding-down period, during which the 'fact' hovers between the 'True Things' and 'False Things' bit of my mind) recite this 'fact' at every opportunity. In fact, if you test me in 5 years' time, I will most assuredly tell you that herons have no knees, despite the fact that I made the thing up myself.

There are things in my head that have no context whatsoever - they could be dreams, or they could have happened, or I could have wished they happened, and I genuinely have no idea which. In most cases this poses no difficulty - whether or not Julcan pushed me off the slide in playgroup or whether I dreamt it is no longer of any consequence (although, between you and me, I suspect she did); on the other hand, it would be nice to be certain that such-and-such is actually engaged/pregnant/going to Mauritius in the summer, and would save a lot of talking in circles to try to ascertain the truth.

Anyway, the point is that context is extremely important, and that when we hear that, for instance, the Bible says that God created the world in 6 days, we would do well to ask some questions about the context of that, and not just take it literally.

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